Editor’s Note: On July 7, 2019, eight Frank Lloyd Wright landmark sites in the United States were collectively inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as “The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright”. Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, is one of them. Other sites included on the list are Taliesin West, the Frederick C. Robie House, Taliesin, Hollyhock House, Fallingwater, the Herbert and Katherine Jacobs House, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple
I’ve admired the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright for many years and have seen several of the homes he designed, including Robie House and the Rookery Building in Chicago, Taliesin in Wisconsin and his own home and studio in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb.
I’m neither a design expert nor a student of architecture. I just know that I like Wright’s distinctive “prairie style” and geometric shapes, lines and patterns. I like the comfortable interiors of the homes with their fireplaces, woodwork, natural lighting and use of livable space.
Wright also designed significant public buildings in his career and on a recent trip to Chicago I visited one that is considered by many to be a stunning example of 20th century modern architecture.
A beautiful gem in the collection of Frank Lloyd Wright designs is Unity Temple in Oak Park which was built between 1906 and 1908. A ticket for the self-guided tour is $9.00 and allows you to roam freely through most areas of the building.
The exterior of the building itself is impressive, designed in Wright’s trademark “prairie style” design and influenced by the simplicity of ancient temples.
When you enter the foyer, you see glass doors ahead of you leading to a courtyard, to the right are social areas and classrooms, and to the left are the halls leading to the main area where services are held. Just as the hearth is a key feature in Wright’s home designs, it figures prominently in the social center of the temple.
As in all of the Wright buildings I’ve seen, there are interesting lighting and space transitions from one area to the next. The hallway and cloisters on either side of the main temple are dimly lit with low ceilings.
But as you turn to enter the sanctuary, you’re struck by the high ceiling, warm tones and natural light from windows and skylights.
There are elements of Japanese-influenced design in features such as the light fixtures.
Whether or not you are a religious person, the temple is a place you may want to spend a few minutes in contemplation as you sit in one of the pews.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation put Unity Temple on their 2009 list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America. Although some projects are underway, funds are still needed for much more restoration and maintenance.
July 2017 Update:
Extensive restoration of Unity Temple was completed in June, 2017. For more information: Unity Temple Restoration Foundation
I am also a fan of architecture while not being a student of architecture. IM Pei, Gaudi, Frank Gehry, and Frank Lloyd Wright all stand out for me. Yes…my tastes vary greatly. I also like old towns, adobe style and native American ruins. Knowing the stories behnd the buildings adds to the intrigue.
I’ve been to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and school at Taliesen West in Tucson (really need to write a post about it!) and I’m headed to Fallingwater near Pittsburgh this summer.
I’ve yet to visit Taliesen West and Fallingwater. Hope to do that sometime. Thanks for sharing your architectural interests!
A remarkable looking building and given its style a very cleverly titled post!
Thanks for your comment about the title. I thought it was pretty good, but better to hear it from a reader! 🙂
I LOVE Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, although as a person, perhaps not so much from what I read anyway. I haven’t visited any of the building you’ve mentioned, but I once drove 5 hours to visit “Falling Water” in Pennsylvania only to found out I drove to the wrong town (another town an hour away that had the same name) and it was closed when I got there, but another one of his houses nearby was open. Still, I really want to visit “Falling Water” one day and check out some of the building you’ve listed above as well. I love his clean lines and how he incorporates the environment into his buildings.
Always nice to hear from other Wright fans! Bummer that you missed Fallingwater (I haven’t seen it yet either), but at least you got to see another FLW house. That’s an excellent point about how he incorporates the environment into his designs. That was especially innovative at the beginning of the 20th century!
Thanks for the write-up! I’ve been meaning to check out the Oak Park house for a long time.
I really enjoyed visiting the home and studio, too. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take photos inside. It’s definitely worth seeing — as are all of FLW’s buildings, in my opinion.
I am not a huge fan of architecture but some of it is really interesting. For example, I liked Gaudi in Barcelona. However, Norbert will love this post! 🙂
Even if you’re not into architecture I think you might like the lighting, use of space and how livable his homes are. I wish I could have taken photos in his Oak Park home and studio. I hope Norbert drops by! 🙂
I love his work too- I learned a lot about him in a class in college and have since been totally hooked. I really need to get to Chicago soon- you are adding more and more places for me to go once I do!
Make sure you go to Oak Park (which is very close to downtown Chicago and a quick train ride from there). In addition to seeing Unity Temple and his Home and Studio, you can take a walking tour to see the exteriors of about 25 other homes that he designed in the neighborhood.
I really like the lighting in this temple. The skylights are very interesting and the picture you took is really nice. I like it but can’t really tell you why!
Thanks, Debbie. For me, it’s more of an emotional feeling I get when in an FLW building (or even looking at photos) than something that can be technically described. So I know what you mean!
Architecture – so interesting. One of my faves is Hundertwasser. I’m not very familiar with Lloyd Wright, but I do like that top photo.
I just googled Hundertwasser, since I hadn’t heard of him before. Very interesting designs. Thanks for the tip. Glad you like the top photo, too!
Wow, that first photo is really cool! I’m not a religious person, but like you said, I’d love to go here just to enjoy the architecture and quiet!
Thanks, Christy — I was quite pleased with that top photo myself! It was a very interesting feeling since my friend and I were the only ones there. It was very quiet and put me in a thoughtful mood.
LOVE! He is the architect who inspired the main character in Ayn Rand’s book The Fountainhead, which makes him very special for me almost as much as his amazing work. We went to see his work in Oak Park with my cousin the last time we were there.
Thanks for mentioning the Ayn Rand connection. You’re absolutely right. Glad that you’ve seen his work in Oak Park. If you haven’t been to Robie House in the Hyde Park area of Chicago’s south side, check it out next time you’re in town.
Cathy I didn’t even know about this one. I’ve always been such a fan of his “Falling Water” house, but even here the way he preserves the open spaces is amazing. Do you know if this still an active church, and what faith is it?
John, yes it is still a very active Unitarian Universalist congregation. This is from their website: “We welcome seekers of all faiths, nationalities, races, genders, ages, abilities, and sexual orientations. We welcome all who seek a religious home free of creeds and guided by love, reason and conscience. We believe each person has a share of the truth and we need one another to grow whole.”
Unity Temple is fascinating! I’m a Wright fan who has made two pilgrimages to Taliesin West, but somehow I never heard about the Temple. Thanks! New York isn’t exactly the first place that leaps to mind when you think of Wright, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a terrific FLW room, recreated in exquisite detail, in the American Wing. You can’t enter it, but you can view it from two different vantage points as well as through a parade of paned, and stained,FLW windows. It’s extremely evocative, and I swear its serenity slows my heart rate every time I look at it.
Well, I’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few times and never knew about the FLW room! Thank you so much for mentioning it. As much of a FLW fan as I am, I haven’t been to Taliesin West yet. But I’ve got family in Arizona who said we are going there next time I visit. Can’t wait.
I lived in Marin County, CA, a few times and had several opportunities to visit the library and the civic center (http://www.marinlibrary.org/california-room/Frank%20Lloyd%20Wright/index.php). It never really appealed to me, due to the 60’s and 70’s feel inside. I was given to understand, however, that the architect’s vision had never been allowed to fully manifest, as the whole point of the copper roof was to have it corrode and drip down the sides of the building, thus blending in to the Marin countryside. Alas, the roof was painted to avoid the very thing it was designed to do! Would love to see a computer-generated projection of what it would have looked like. 🙂
I like the Japanese elements evident in your photos, but once again, am a bit put off by the heavy-handedness of some of the 60’s feel. Still, thank you for posting and broadening my world!
Thanks for the comment, Katrina. I’ve driven by the Marin Civic Center a thousand times, but have never been inside. Interesting that it was FLW’s last commission while Unity Temple was his first public commission, but the last one that remains of his prairie style period. I think you might like his prairie style works. There’s no 60’s-70’s feel about them!
I’m also a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright (as are a lot of people, I suppose!). I’d love to see some of his work in person someday. I love the clean lines of The Unity Temple. Thanks for sharing it with us!
FLW was really a leader in architecture and design. Seeing his work in person is a real treat.
Wright designed some great buildings. I love your first shot.
Thanks, Nancie — the Unity Temple skylights are amazing. When you first see them, it’s a surprise!
I am also a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, although I am definitely not an expert of either architecture or design! My father used to go visit all of the buildings he had designed and tried to explain them in detail to me, but all I knew was that I liked it-plain and simple! I am the social media coordinator at Midwest Living magazine and we’re working with Enjoy Illinois on a Facebook contest called, “Magnificent Getaways Giveaway Contest,” which invites people to share recent magnificent Illinois experiences for a chance to win one of three one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime experiences in Chicago and across Illinois. The Grand Prize alone includes dining (for four) on the Ledge at Skydeck Chicago, Terzo Piano and Lawry’s Prime, plus a stay at the Trump Tower and more! If this is something you’re interested in you can enter one of two ways: http://www.facebook.com/enjoyillinois or on the contest website, http://magnificentgiveaway.com. Please feel free to contact me with any questions at email@example.com.
Thanks! Hayley Mason, Social Media Coordinator for Midwest Living magazine, Meredith Corporation
Hi Haley – thanks for your comment and information about the contest. I’m sure that I’ll be entering it. I’m also leaving the links here in case others would like to do the same.
I share your love of architecture and I’m not a student of it either. I just know what I like and Frank Lloyd Wright is definitely one of my heroes when it comes to the subject. The stained glass skylights are enchanting and I’ve never seen cushioned pews….love it!
I love interesting architecture that makes you stop and look and challenges you to decide whether you like it or not. I guess that means Frank Lloyd Wright is a success because I’m looking at your photos, trying to decide whether I like his work or not. 🙂
Neither am I too, I am not a student of architecture I mean, but building architectures always fascinate me and I always find myself in awe of all the different architectures around the world, where they are all influenced by the local cultures. I absolutely love the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, hey, his designs are well-celebrated and recognized around the world. Ohhh, it upsets me to hear when an old building is facing danger, I hope they do get to the maintenance, restoration, etc as soon as possible to preserve such a beautiful building!!~
Thanks for this Cathy you know, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a FLW building in real life..
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